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Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.

Opinion polling, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald suggests the Prime Minister would loss his seat of Bennelong if the election was held now.

If nothing else this report serves to remind us to the difference here from the United States. Redistricting in the United States for the House of Representatives seems an ad hoc process, or at least leads to some weirdly shaped electorates. In reality, of course, the process is the result of careful computer-driven distributions to shape demographics and manufacture outcomes. In Australia, as in other rational democracies, these matters are in the hands of a non-partisan government body, the AEC, who must redistribute seats between states due to population changes, and electoral divisions in such redistributions are subject to such criteria as community of interests.

The result in John Howard’s seat is that it has moved westward, changing the voting patterns, and making his seat more vulnerable. The poll result suggests that Labor was wise to run a high profile candidate in Maxine McKew.

Of course polls are not definite indications of voting intentions. As in the recent French election, the Australian election may be a struggle for the middle ground, with Labor aiming to win over the “Howard battlers”, traditional Labor voters attracted by Howard’s social conservatism, and seeking to win the independent social progressives who opted to support Howard on grounds of economic rationality. As I have suggested, a mass party makes a major mistake if it directs its energies wholly to marginal seat campaigning without energizing its base.

However, John Howard, as these polls suggest, has a major problem. He must campaign nationally and locally. These two are not necessarily opposites, but he would be better off without the problem.

Postscript: 13 May 2007

I cannot think of a single prime minister since Stanley Bruce in 1929 who held a marginal seat. Howard will have to spend time in his seat, which deflects from the government’s overall marginal seat campaign, which will be enhanced by a yet to announced, but expected wedge, moral panic.

This silver bullet has not yet been fired, although the background boys must be frantically working to load the gun. We shall see.



1. Club Troppo » Monday’s Missing Link on Tuesday - May 15, 2007

[…] dweller Wmmbb believes that (a) our electoral redistribution process is more rational than the one operating in the US, […]

2. The Poll Bludger - May 15, 2007

At the time he became Prime Minister in 1941, John Curtin had a margin of 0.6 per cent in his seat of Fremantle. He had earlier lost the seat in 1931, before winning it back in 1934.

Billy McMahon had a 4.9 per cent margin in his seat of Lowe when he became Prime Minister in 1971, which fell to 3.0 per cent when his government was defeated in 1972. There was a lot of speculation ahead of that election that he might lose the seat – significantly, he appeared to benefit from a sympathy vote. He won by only 1.1 per cent at his last election in 1980, and the seat is now held by Labor.

3. wmmbb - May 16, 2007

Thanks for that PB.
I knew about Billy McMahon in a general sense, and as you say the fact that he was Prime Minister helped him hold Lowe, which has probably had a name change.
Fremantle is a bit of a surprise, knowing that it is a port and Kim Beazley Snr held it for along time. The fact that he held a very thin marginal seat adds to the Curtin Story.

4. wmmbb - May 16, 2007

Ken Parish takes me literally, and I am found wanting. Hence I make a point of always employing “rational” in a qualified way. Whatever redistricting is, it does not appear to be impartial and objective. To some extent John Howard has been boxed in.
I have no idea whether he supposed the nexus referendum, but I expect not. The fact that the Constitution specifies a minimum number of Rep seats for original states and the number of seats in the Reps is linked to the number of Senators distinguishes the Australian case, but such parameters are not of themselves unique. For example, in NZ there is a set number of seats for the South Island as well as for Maori.

5. wmmbb - May 16, 2007

Readers might notice I have emended my comments, which is one of the advantages I have in posting them here.
I will follow the policy of using italics to indicate where this has happened in comments.

6. The Poll Bludger - May 16, 2007

In Curtin’s day, the entire Perth metropolitan area was covered by just two electorates – Perth and Fremantle. At the time he lost the seat in 1931, it included Perth’s western suburbs all the way north to Balcatta, which will strike you as highly remarkable if you’re at all familiar with the geography of Perth. So while Fremantle itself was as working class and pro-Labor as you might expect (it so happens that my grandfather was president of the Fremantle Workers Club during this era), that was only part of the story as far as the federal electorate was concerned.

7. wmmbb - May 17, 2007

Thank you again PB
Curtin might have won by 690 votes, before becoming PM but the 1943(?) election he won by 23,000. Quite a significant change, considering the imposition of wartime rationing and so forth.
These metropolitan seats were larger in area and smaller in population. I remember my great Aunty telling me that there was bush in Leederville- she could have been talking of the 1920’s or earlier. In 1911 the population of Perth was 31,300 and by 1947 it had increased to 272, 528.
Since Federation, WA appears to have had five Federal electoral divisions (of course, as per The Constitution). For the 1943 election they were: Forrest (46,079), Fremantle (56,399 ) Kalgoorlie (41,35 1), Perth (55,498) and Swan (48,028 ). – Australian Federal Redistributions 1901 -2003, AEC Reseach Report #4, 2004.

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